Sunday, September 09, 2007

For Cripes Sake, Will You Guys Just WIN!!

I've got mixed feelings as the Browns open the 2007 campaign. I think the team's better, but I'm also aware that they've got some glaring weaknesses and a brutal schedule ahead of them. Overall, I guess I'm guardedly optimistic, but since the first game is against the Steelers, I'm mostly just angry. I'm disgusted by the fact that almost a decade's worth of incompetent performances by the Cleveland Browns have allowed what was once the NFL's greatest rivalry to degenerate into football's version of torture porn. I want this string of humiliating losses to a team I truly hate to end right now.

Cleveland's last victory over Pittsburgh came in a Sunday night game back in 2003. The Browns won that night by a score of 33-13. It's been all downhill since then, with the Browns losing streak to the Steelers now standing at seven games. And what a miserable stretch of games it has been -- we've not only had to watch the Steelers turn Browns Stadium into their home away from home, but we've also had to endure on-field humiliations like 2005's Christmas Eve Massacre and last year's 27-7 debacle.

You'd like to think that in a rivalry as heated as the Browns v. Steelers used to be, blowouts like those two disasters would be the exception. In truth, they're actually fairly typical of the Browns efforts over the past three and a half seasons. The Steelers have outscored the Browns 197-67 in their last seven meetings, and only once during that stretch have the Browns lost to the Steelers by less than a touchdown.

To make matters worse, while the Browns appear to have spent most of the last three seasons engaged in a death struggle with the Oakland Raiders for the title of the NFL's biggest laughingstock, over that same period, the Steelers have covered themselves in glory. While Cleveland's endured everything from Butch Davis's nervous breakdown to LeCharles Bentley's torn patella tendon, Pittsburgh's highlights over the past three years include yet another Super Bowl title and a 15-1 regular season record. The Steelers consider last year's 8-8 record to be nearly catastrophic; if the Browns ever reached 8-8, we'd probably have a parade.

All of that brings me to my point -- ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP!!

It is far past time for the Cleveland Browns to stand up and smack the Pittsburgh Steelers right in the mouth. And guess what? They've never had a better chance to do that than the one they've got today. The Browns are a better team on paper than they've been since at least 2002, while the Steelers have a number of question marks that appear to have been papered over by the media due to their impressive reputation as judges of talent.

While preseason results should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, the Browns appear to have made significant improvements in their offensive line, and Jamaal Lewis looks like he might actually have some gas left in his tank. Putting aside the unsettled situation at QB, Cleveland's biggest weaknesses appear to be on the defensive side of the ball, and the defensive line in particular. However, the biggest question marks for the Steelers relate to the offensive line, so even with Cleveland's defensive shortcomings, it remains to be seen whether Pittsburgh's running game will be as dominant as it has been in the past.

The Steelers are still quite a bit better than the Browns on paper, but they are in the midst of several key changes that could give the Browns a shot, especially in an early season game like this one. Pittsburgh not only has a new head coach, but there are a number of open issues at positions on both sides of the ball. On defense, Joey Porter's gone, and the Steelers are reportedly going to use rookie LeMar Woodley as their left side pass rusher in place of veteran Clark Haggans. That should make for an interesting matchup with Browns rookie LT Joe Thomas.

But perhaps more important from the Browns' perspective are the changes to Pittsburgh's offensive unit. One of the keys to the Steelers recent success against the Browns has been a dominant offensive line. However, that line looks a lot different than it did in recent years. Sean Mahan will replace the retired Jeff Hartings at the Center position while Willie Colon will start at Right Tackle in place of Max Starks. All-Pro Guard Alan Faneca is still with the team, but is unhappy with his salary situation and is likely in his last season with the club.

Another key change is the replacement of Fullback Dan Kreider with Carey Davis. Kreider has been one of the NFL's best blocking backs for the past several years, while Davis is a journeyman on his fifth NFL team. Kreider was basically a Guard who lined up in the backfield, and the Steelers are reportedly intrigued by the added versatility that Davis provides.

All of these changes don't guarantee that the Browns will be competitive this afternoon, but I think they've got a chance to be. I think the Steelers are being given too much credit for past performance. New faces often mean unpredictability, even if the team in question has a reputation for making excellent personnel decisions -- and remember, it's a new coaching staff that's making those decisions this season.

This game is probably more pivotal than any opener that the Browns have played since their return. The Browns have better talent at several positions, but the difficulty of their schedule means that unless they come out of the gate strong, this season could rapidly deteriorate into another disaster. On the other hand, if they figure out a way to win it, the nightmare of a 1-5 start will begin to dissipate. Crennel will have a little more job security, and the risk of Brady Quinn being forced into the starting role prematurely will lessen considerably.

I'm so damn tired of losing to Pittsburgh. For cripes sake, Brownies, will you guys just WIN!!! This is a classic example of the triumph of hope over experience, but to hell with it -- I'm going to predict that they're going to do just that.

Cleveland 17, Pittsburgh 13.

1 comment:

robhawkins said...

Good post. Just can't help having optimism before the snap. I really, really hope the Brownies are at least competitive. I am tired of watching them look, well,
pathetic.